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COMMON Education Foundation: Connecting with the Next Generation of IT Talent

As the older generation of IT professionals looks toward retirement, filling the gaps left behind can be challenging.

COMMON Education Foundation (CEF) seeks to help solve that challenge, connecting the next generation of IT talent with employers and educational resources.

Laura Ubelhor, owner of Consultech Services Inc. and secretary of CEF, has been working with the nonprofit for 17 years to provide awareness of education resources available to students, educators and individuals looking for an IT career.

“We all know extremely well, because we hear it frequently, that there are a lot of people retiring on [IBM i], so a lot of organizations are confused about where to find the next generation of talent,” Ubelhor says. “CEF plays a critical role in connecting the community with the next generation on IBM i and providing education resources. We do this in part through having students and educators participate at COMMON events.”

Student Meet and Greets

A new and successful addition to CEF’s efforts to engage with the next generation of IT talent are its student meet and greets, which bring together students, educators and IBM i community members.

“Through CEF, students are able to attend events, learn, connect with the community and go back to their local community enthused and sharing,” Ubelhor explains. “They’re able to get insight through others already working on the platform in IBM i jobs. Their eyes are opened to the possibilities.”

The meet and greets offer opportunities for participants to secure employment with organizations that are seeking the next generation of IT talent, and for those who are not yet looking for jobs, the events allow participants to gain experience talking to prospective organizations and insight into what these organizations are looking for in candidates.

COMMON Education Foundation’s Impact

CEF has received positive feedback over the years from students and companies that experienced successes because of their involvement in the group.

“It’s probably [been] at least 15 years since we had our first students,” Ubelhor says. “I remember, at the first conference we had three students, and they had gone to a local event in Michigan. Everyone just went crazy about, ‘Wow, young people!’ These three went to a COMMON conference in Cleveland and received the same reaction. They were just swarmed and had a fabulous time and experience, and the community had a real buzz.”

Since then, CEF’s reach has grown substantially, allowing them to connect more students and educators with opportunities.

“We’ve proven it’s a great way to help students find a job or internship and organizations looking to find the next generation,” Ubelhor says. “[At] the last meet and greet, we had roughly 30 students sign up and roughly 65 community participants. The next morning, we already had 3 successful hires.”

Steven Conyer, a previous CEF participant, is grateful for his time with CEF.

“My experience with the student meet and greets was eye opening, informative and fun,” Conyer says. “Getting to meet well-known people in the IBM i community and employers seeking young talent is an experience all in itself.”

Prior to getting involved with CEF, another previous participant, Justin Becker, had read through internet forums with people complaining that securing jobs within the industry is extremely difficult. “They complain that they’ve filled out hundreds of applications and received no interviews, and their negative experiences were starting to make me nervous about the career I’d chosen to pursue,” Becker says.

The CEF meet and greets challenged that narrative Becker had read online, allowing him to secure employment before he had even finished his degree.

“My concerns were dispelled when I saw how supportive and eager to engage the recruiters at the meet and greet were. They shared valuable insights about what employers are looking for, as well as what their internships and junior roles entailed,” Becker said. “I was only a couple weeks into my first programming class when I attended that meet and greet, but just a few months later, one of the recruiters reached out to see if I’d be interested in an internship at their company.”

Becker saw great success through his involvement in the program, and he urges those pursuing careers in IT to consider participating in a CEF meet and greet.

“I believe my story shows what a valuable experience these meet and greets can be. I was offered a position before I’d even finished my degree, and all I had to do was get my face out there and introduce myself. I highly recommend that any students considering entering this sector should attend as many meet and greets as possible,” he adds.

The Future of COMMON Education Foundation

Looking ahead, CEF will continue pursuing its mission: connecting the next generation of IT with the IBM i community and providing them access to the resources they need to succeed.

“We’ll be doing a lot of the same things that we’ve provided to the community, but I do think that there certainly will be more emphasis on making the connection for the next generation,” Ubelhor says. “CEF will continue to play the very important role of connecting [the] community with [the] future generation of resources, helping keep IBM curriculum in schools across the country, providing opportunities and resources to colleges, instructors, students and the community.”

Upcoming COMMON Education Foundation Events

Some of CEF’s upcoming events include the NAViGATE conference in Virginia Beach. CEF will have a booth at the event, where they will be selling merchandise, holding raffles, sharing information, providing student and educator activities and more.   CEF will also have an onsite, informal job fair at NAViGATE and a virtual student meet and greet later this year.

“We’re focusing more on students or people that are new to an IT career and some of these activities, we’re not turning away someone that is in between jobs and looking,” Ubelhor says. “There [are] still a lot of colleges that teach the curriculum, but we’re not excluding others as well because of this large demand…Sure, you’d like to have somebody that can just step in with all the skills you’re looking for, but if you don’t, you look for the bones you can build upon. So, if they have some business schooling or IT classes, whatever it might be, but they have that willingness and desire and the aptitude to do it, then you can always build. COMMON has the resources.”

After 17 years, Ubelhor can testify to the value of CEF’s efforts.

“There [have] been hundreds and hundreds of students we’ve seen throughout the years go through, and they land into a fulfilling career, and you just see them blossom and grow,” Ubelhor says. “I’ve found it [to be] a very fulfilling career that I’ve enjoyed tremendously, and I know that opportunity is out there for a lot of others as well. It’s just sometimes making the connection and pulling everything together…Through our efforts, we can certainly make that happen.